The Co-op Group has become the first major supermarket to equip security officers with SmartTag, a new forensic spray to deter attacks and assaults on store workers.
The move comes against rising levels of shocking abuse and violence against retail workers. The problem has seen a range of responses from the retail co-op movement and wider industry, with retailers and unions calling for tougher laws to protect staff in shops.
Last month, the Group’s campaigns and public affairs director Paul Gerrard gave evidence to MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee as they look for ways to respond to the crisis.
The new initiative will see security officers trained in the use of the handheld spray, which contains a unique SmartWater forensic signature. Trials in South Yorkshire have shown that SmartTag can calm potentially violent incidents, and stop them from escalating.
The technology is used by Mitie security officers in around 400 Group stores, and can be moved to different locations based on the latest intelligence or need. Violent offenders can be sprayed with SmartWater, which provides evidence for the police to act on later.
The Group says the device will only be used in extreme circumstances, and security officers must complete a training course, designed with the advice of police and legal teams, before being equipped.
Det Supt Lee Berry, who launched a pilot with security guards with South Yorkshire Police, said: “Our aim was to create a deterrent for door staff to diffuse violent incidents before they escalated. Over 100 canisters were deployed across the county following a successful trial in Sheffield. We received great feedback from security staff who said they had diffused situations by warning those involved that they would be forensically marked.”
Andrew Needham, head of retail loss and security at the Group, said: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our colleagues who work tirelessly to serve communities. No one should have to face violence just for doing their job, and we are doing everything we can to protect them.
“As a community retailer we see the impact of social issues in our stores, and alongside the latest technology the root causes of crime in communities must also be addressed – that is why we are calling for government to introduce greater protection for shop workers with stiffer penalties and sentencing for those convicted to send out a clear message that violence, abuse and anti-social behaviour is not acceptable.”
This year will also see the Group more than double the number of stores where colleagues wear body-worn cameras. Over 550 stores are expected to use the technology which can send real-time audio and visual footage to Mitie’s Security Operation Centre at the push of a button.